Homily for the Senior High School Graduation Mass, Ateneo de Manila University, 31st Mar 2017
So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”
It is one of the first things we ask to acquaint ourselves with each other: Tagasaan ka? It is strange that we should ask this so naturally. In other cultures, asking “tagasaan ka” would seem invasive, if not odd. And yet we ask this often enough, not to pry, but perhaps to get an initial sense of the person we are meeting. We ask this question to locate each other, to place each other, as if knowing someone’s GPS coordinates will give us a clue to the kind of person in front of us. Tell me where you come from, and I just might be able to tell you who you are.
In the Gospel today, the people of Jerusalem are prevented from knowing who Jesus is because they knew where he came from. He was just from Nazareth. They seem to sense from his speaking that he might be the Messiah, the Christ they had been waiting for, and yet they could not recognize him for one reason: they firmly believed that no one would know where the real and true Christ would come from. “When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” And since they knew clearly where he was from, ergo, this Jesus of Nazareth could not possibly be the Christ.
Jesus’ reply to this misguided thinking and presumption was to move them from the surface to a level much deeper. Indeed he tells them, you seem to know me, to know where I come from, and yet in truth you do not really know me; you do not know where I come from. Because I did not come here on my own. I come from God; I come from the Father, who sent me, who you do not know. For all your vaunted faithfulness and pious practices, you haven’t the slightest idea of who God is, the God from whom I come. And so you really do not know who I am.
My dear young Ateneans, as you close this chapter of high school, as you move farther from your beginnings in childhood and closer to the tangled concerns of adulthood, I ask you: do you know where you come from? Actually, this question of origin is more than just a question of place or evolutionary biology or ancestry. This question of provenance is not a question of where but a question of who. Do you know who you come from?
Tagasaan ka? Saan ka galing? Kanino ka nanggaling?
To begin to even answer that question, I hope that you will be honest enough to accept, to admit that you are not here on your own. Even as you walked on your own two feet to this place, you were carried. So many, your parents and family, your friends, they’ve been carrying you far longer than you can remember. Aside from them, someone else has been carrying you long before you even came to be.
As children, we knew this all too clearly. As we grow older, as we discover our power to walk on our own, we can forget this truth of our radical dependence and contingency. We are here in this universe, and yet we know there is nothing compelling about us to be here. In other words, we need not be here. Even this universe need not be here. And yet this universe is mysteriously all around us. And wonder of wonders, we (of all the multiverses that could ever be), we are here.
If you let the light of faith shine on that wonder, this mystery of our being here opens us to confess ultimately that we are here not on our own. Someone has been carrying us all throughout our life. That Someone is who we come from.
Tagasaan ba tayong lahat? Kung isang paraiso ang pinanggalingan nating lahat, ang paraisong ito ay hindi isang lugar lamang. If this paradise were a place, it would be a wondrous place in the heart of God. Yes, we come from God, from the very heart of God.
We come from love. It is love that brings us to being. It is God who begins us, who continues to carry us even as we have learned to walk on our own.
If we come from God, then we know who we are. We are children of God. We are God’s very own. We are loved. We shall always be loved. It is in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ that we come to learn about this lovely and powerful truth: that our God is Abba, Father, someone intimately close to us, who cares deeply about us because we are His very own.
As you move to the next chapter of your life, I hope you will always remember where you come from, who you come from. So much pain in the world comes from forgetting our origin, so much sorrow from disowning the One who is our beginning and also our end. The injustice that stalks our slums, the fascination with playing god over life and death, the patent lies and flirtation with power, the utter disrespect for human life and human dignity, the temptation to lose hope — all these come from forgetting who we are and who we come from. Once we lose our sense of origin and place, we lose ourselves. It is this pervading placelessness that leads to lives displaced and dislocated, lives terribly wasted. Naliligaw tayo, nawawala sa tamang lugar tuwing ibinabaon sa limot ang ating pinanggalingan, tuwing nalilimutan natin kung sino ang ating pinagmulan.
May kasabihan tayo: ang taong di marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, di makakarating sa paroroonan. Mga kapwa kong Atenista, matuto sana tayong lumingon lagi sa pinaka-pinanggagalingan nating lahat; sa Diyos na siyang pag-ibig na siyang bukal ng lahat-lahat. Lumingon tayo at tumanaw ng utang na loob sa Diyos na ating pinagbuhatan, sa ating Diyos na kasama nating nagbubuhat ng ating buhay.
Remember who you come from and you will know who you are. As Jesus Christ is of the Father, so are we of the Father, and truly God’s very own.